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Second seed Roberto Bautista Agut did it the hard way on Tuesday, needing more than two hours to secure a win in his opening match at the Winston-Salem Open. Much like top seed Richard Gasquet a day earlier, the Spaniard needed three sets to get his 2016 campaign off the mark. He prevailed 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 against Brit Aljaz Bedene, with his opponent serving 15 aces but finishing one for eight on break points won.
Bautista Agut, a winner of hard-court titles this season in Auckland and Sofia, will play No. 14 seed Marcos Baghdatis in the third round after the Cypriot won through a two-hour-plus struggle of his own against Donald Young. Baghdatis won 76 per cent of first-serve points in the 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 result.
Three-time semi-finalist Sam Querrey also progressed to to the third round after narrowly holding off Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. The sixth-seeded American posted a 6-3, 6-7(5), 7-5 victory in two hours and eight minutes on the back of 24 aces.
"It's been a solid year so far," Querrey said. "I don't feel a ton of pressure. I'm just trying to feel good, just trying to play some good matches."
"The fans are great here. They're really supportive. They get behind the Americans so that was nice."
Third seed Pablo Cuevas had a smoother path to the third round. The Uruguayan downed Malek Jaziri 7-5, 6-1 to book a clash with Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta. The No. 16 seed moved past Jan-Lennard Struff 6-4, 7-5.
For the second year in a row, Gilles Simon bowed out in his Winston-Salem opener. The seventh-seeded Frenchman fell to Argentine Diego Schwartzman 7-6(2), 6-1 on Tuesday. Schwartzman, World No. 68 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, was a finalist earlier this year at the TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Open (l. Dimitrov). He awaits the winner between No. 10 seed Joao Sousa and Yen-Hsun Lu.
It was an early exit also for Spanish eighth seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas. He fell 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 to John Millman. The Australian next meets American wild card Bjorn Fratangelo, who knocked out 11th-seeded Italian Paolo Lorenzi, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 in two hours.
Fourteen-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal will commence his season in Australia for the first time when he joins the field at Brisbane International presented by Suncorp this summer.
The Spanish ace has traditionally favoured the Middle East to start his new year campaign, but will break with tradition in January for his maiden appearance in the Sunshine State.
“It’s going to be the first time in my career that I’m going to play in Australia the first week of the season and I’m really excited about it,” Nadal said.
“I think this is something I have to do during my career and I think at the same time it’s going to be a great preparation to be in Australia early. Everybody who has been in Brisbane has told me very beautiful things about the tournament and the place so I want to try it.”
Nadal completes a clean sweep of the ‘Big Four’ to step out at Pat Rafter Arena, with fellow men’s tennis stars Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray all having competed at previous editions of the event.
Brisbane International Tournament Director Geoff Quinlan said the World No.5 would be a sure-fire favourite with fans this summer.
“We’re thrilled to announce Rafael Nadal will start his season in Brisbane in 2017 and can’t wait to welcome him to Queensland Tennis Centre,” he said.
“The Brisbane International has a reputation for attracting the biggest names in world tennis and we’re really excited our fans will have the chance to see Rafa in action this summer. We’ve been in talks with Rafa for a number of years about competing in Brisbane, he’s seen the event get bigger and better every year and we’re ecstatic he’s decided to join the field in 2017.
“Rafa is a legend of the sport and one of the most exciting players to see live so I’m sure fans will be counting down the days to January.
“This is just the start of a very exciting line-up of players we will announce over the coming months as we look ahead to Brisbane International 2017.”
Minister for Tourism and Major Events Kate Jones said securing Nadal was a win for the tournament and Queensland tourism.
“In 2016 we welcomed legend Roger Federer for a third time, and it’s fantastic to now add Rafa to the list of champions to play in Queensland’s premier tennis tournament,” Minister Jones said.
“Securing marquee players like Rafael Nadal provides a big drawcard for the Brisbane International and boosts the reputation of this world class Queensland event.”
Brisbane International 2017, presented by Suncorp and supported by Tourism and Events Queensland, will be held at Queensland Tennis Centre from 1 to 8 January. The tournament is part of the Emirates Australian Open Series, which also incorporates Hopman Cup (Perth), Apia International Sydney, Hobart International and World Tennis Challenge (Adelaide).
Pre-sale tickets are on sale to registered players through Ticketek from midday today.
For all tournament information please visit brisbaneinternational.com.au.
In 's-Hertogenbosch, he had just lost to 17-year-old countryman Stefan Kozlov 6-3, 6-4 in 87 minutes. A day earlier, the young American had won his first ever ATP World Tour match.
“Not my best match of the year by any stretch,” Johnson said earlier this week in Winston-Salem.
But the 26 year old didn't let the defeat derail his season. In fact, the next week, he celebrated a career-high win: Johnson beat then-No. 10 Richard Gasquet at The Queen's Club to gain the first Top 10 win of his career. Beginning with that result, he's gone 20-7 in tour-level matches.
On Monday, he celebrated his biggest accomplishment yet. Johnson, No. 21 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, officially became the No. 1 American. John Isner had reigned at the top every week since 29 July, 2013.
“It's easy to pinpoint now that was the turning point to my season,” Johnson said of the Gasquet match. “Even at that point, deep down I believed that I still was capable of this. Maybe there are doubts that creep in but thank goodness I have people who are close to me who never doubted me. They just continued to push me and that's what you need when times are tough.”
It has been quite the past few months for Johnson. After reaching the quarter-finals at The Queen's Club, he won his first ATP World Tour singles title at the Aegon Open Nottingham (d. Cuevas). At Wimbledon the next week, he reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam championship for the first time (l. to Federer).
In Washington, Johnson beat Isner in the quarter-finals before falling to Ivo Karlovic in the semi-finals. The California native also reached his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 quarter-final last week at the Western & Southern Open (l. to Dimitrov).
Johnson started the season 6-14. “That's why you have to stay positive. It can turn around at any moment,” he said.
In Winston-Salem, he'll trying to continue his “year of firsts” and win his first title on American soil. He has come close to making the final of a U.S. tournament. Johnson has reached the semi-finals in Washington twice and made the last four in Winston-Salem last year.
But the two-time NCAA singles champion at the University of Southern California said he feels especially comfortable playing at the Winston-Salem Open, which is held at Wake Forest University.
“You want to win on American soil as much as possible,” Johnson said. “It would be fun to win obviously one of our, what we consider our home tournaments so hopefully I'll get a chance to be here at the end of the week.”
It was a match a less poised young player might have lost.
On Monday at the Winston-Salem Open, 21 year old Kyle Edmund faced ATP World Tour veteran Rajeev Ram for a spot in the second round. The 32 year old's serve-and-volley tactics and flat, penetrating groundstrokes thrive in quick environments like Winston-Salem.
But in North Carolina, Edmund was able to break Ram three times. After losing two match points, the young Brit advanced 7-5, 7-6(5).
“I just knew I had to keep going because I was playing well to get match points,” Edmund told ATPWorldTour.com. “There's no point in moping around because if you mope around you get a slow start in the tie-break and that will cost you and then you're in the third set anyway.”
The win was the #NextGen star's first at the ATP World Tour 250 tournament and the latest sign of his continued development. Since the start of 2015, the 6'2” right-hander has hiked 106 spots in the Emirates ATP Rankings to No. 85.
He's spent the season checking off career milestones. He reached his first ATP World Tour quarter-final in Doha (l. to Berdych). At The Queen's Club in London, he made his second ATP World Tour quarter-final (l. to Murray) and gained his first Top 20 win, beating then-World No. 18 Gilles Simon 6-4, 3-6, 6-1.
Twelve months ago this week, Edmund had finished playing an ATP Challenger event and was playing qualifying at the US Open.
“If I look at this stage last year and I say am I a better player? I say definitely,” Edmund said. “I've played more matches on the bigger stages at the tour level... So you're building that experience in the bank, which is good for me and that's exactly what I want.”
Edmund has made a conscious effort this year to play more ATP World Tour tournaments and fewer Challenger events. The choice has helped him gain experience against the best in the world.
In March at the Miami Open presented by Itau, the Beverley resident faced World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the second round but fell 6-3, 6-3. In the quarter-finals of the Aegon Championships in June, the Brit showed his improved game by taking a set off World No. 2 Andy Murray before losing to his countryman 6-4, 3-6, 6-1.
“I was pleased with what I put on court [against Murray],” Edmund said. “What you take away from that is, what we're doing is good, but let's do it more consistently. Step it up a level.”
Murray, who'd go on to win a record fifth Aegon Championships title, noted Edmund's evolving game after the match.
“When he's landing first serves and then getting the first shot of the rally on his forehand, he can dictate a lot of the points,” Murray said. “He doesn't have a real weakness from the back. His backhand is solid... There are obviously things he's going to continue to improve as well... I think his game is getting better all the time, and that's very positive.”
At Winston-Salem, which is held at Wake Forest University, Edmund is looking to keep improving and enjoy another college campus in the U.S. While he was in the Dallas area for the Irving Challenger in February, he trained with the Texas Christian University men's tennis team in Fort Worth.
“It's always individual stuff here. To go there and work with the team is slightly different but it's a nice difference so it's good,” Edmund said.
He especially had fun during their off-court activity of paintballing. Edmund had never been before and learned how intense the game can get.
“We played teams, you win some you lose some. But everyone comes away with bruises, don't they?” he said. “I put on the mask but I remember I got one right in the mouth vent. I just remembered this massive noise, and I didn't know what happened. I knew I got hit. I went back and all my teeth were pink from the ball.”
Maybe in Winston-Salem he'll stick to tennis.
A lot can change in two years. In 2014, Grigor Dimitrov, looked to have begun to realise his potential as he surged into the Top 10 after reaching his first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon. But success proved fleeting; Dimitrov was far from the finished article.
However, a journey of self-discovery over the past 18 months looks to have led the Bulgarian to finding his own identity, and with it, a sense of calm and happiness once more on the tennis court.
"The one thing I've been really focused on is simplicity and just being me,” Dimitrov told ATPWorldTour.com. “I've been finding my identity not only on the court, but also off the court. I have so many different interests in so many different areas that sometimes I just need to chill, step back and let it be. Wake up and do whatever I feel like and the way I want to do it and live a little bit more on my own terms.”
A new partnership this summer with Dani Vallverdu – former coach of Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych – has further cemented in Dimitrov’s mind the need for simplicity in his life and getting back to basics on the tennis court.
“Now that I'm working with Dani it's also nice to have someone you can really get close to and share a lot,” said Dimitrov. “The structure overall has been better for me. We're simplifying things, working on the right things and that in a way helps you to become a little bit calmer, more confident and that brings a lot to your game.
"Lately we've been doing a lot of work, even after matches, working on small details, whether it's backhand cross or backhand down the line or certain go-to game plays in certain moments to try and make everything a little bit more automatic and lose yourself in the game. It's great when you start feeling that you're hitting the ball well and there's nothing else but the ball and the way you move and the way you hit it. You enjoy the game way more.”
Total immersion in his game has brought Dimitrov and Vallverdu instant results. When the pair joined forces, Dimitrov was World No. 40 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, his lowest position in more than three years. He is now on the verge of returning to the Top 20 after reaching the quarter-finals of the Rogers Cup in Toronto (l. to Nishikori) and the semi-finals of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati (l. to Cilic).
For a player blessed with immense talent, the challenge has been understanding his best game and how best to use his range of shots.
“He’s determined to play the best tennis he can,” Vallverdu told ATPWorldTour.com. “During the past year he’s been struggling to find his own identity; he didn’t know which kind of player he was.
“My goal is helping him with this and simplifying his tennis. He has lots of variety, but he only needs those resources when he is facing difficult situations on court. When he’s not in a difficult moment, it's important that he only concentrates on his main weapons, which are really good. That’s what I’m going to try and implement in his game: simplifying it as much as possible. We want him to feel comfortable with his weapons.”
“We had a good start,” continued Vallverdu. “Since Toronto things have been going well. But it's not going to be a process of one or two months. It will be a process of six to 12 months.
“The most important thing in the next three months is to start establishing good habits on the court. Habits that will make him competitive next year. That's what I want, for him to be very consistent every day so that the habits develop as much as possible. It's not easy. It will be a tough mental process. But it's a process I'm certain he has to go through.”
Vallverdu’s assessment of Dimitrov’s career path was simply that success came too early for a player already burdened with the pressure of being ‘the next Roger Federer’.
“Many players who manage to reach the Top 10 at a young age struggle to understand what’s happening,” he said. “It’s a brand new situation for them, as much off the court as on it. I think the problem was that he was trying to find his identity on the court and he didn't manage it.
“His weapons were not as good anymore. Then it’s like a domino effect: when your shots are not working, your confidence drops and the errors increase. He went through this process, but the important thing is to accept it and focus on the current moment. What's good is that we know he is a player that can reach that level. It requires hard work, months of training, and he will have to give everything. But I’m convinced that with hard work he can play at a great level next season.”
"I'm definitely in a better spot [than last year],” said Dimitrov, remembering the doubts and periods of feeling low he struggled with during difficult moments in 2015. “I've been playing a little bit better tennis and had quite a few big wins so far.
“Overall I'm happy with the way things are developing. Of course, there's more homework to be done. But right now I think I'm on the right path and just taking each day as it is and trying to enjoy a bit more every match that I'm playing out there.
"It's a new chapter. I don't feel like I've reached my potential. Of course I was Top 10, but that was momentary. I want to establish myself as one of those players. I've been there, done that, so I know what to do. My body feels excellent, I'm working hard, I'm developing my game, working in the gym and all these things are adding up. I think maturity also comes with that. I just need to get the results.”
“We have a long-term relationship in mind,” concluded Vallverdu. “I accepted the job because I see it as a long-term project. I firmly believe in Grigor and with a lot of hard work, we can achieve several goals. I’m ready to be working with him for a long time.”
Watch live streaming of the US Open qualifying tournament, which takes place from 23-26 August at Flushing Meadows.
Main draw play begins in New York on Monday, 29 August.
As a kid in Nice, Gilles Simon had great tennis skills but he kept hearing why he wouldn't make it as a pro.
Too skinny. Too short.
“He plays OK but he's too small,” Simon remembers people saying.
But when he was about 10 years old, Simon saw a player who helped him believe those doubters were wrong. The player wasn't particularly big nor particularly strong. He also didn't try to outhit his opponents, opting instead to out-hustle and outsmart them. The American would chase down every ball and place his serve against his opponent's weakness.
Michael Chang would go on to win 34 tour-level titles, including Simon's home Grand Slam championship, Roland Garros, and reach No. 2 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. He also helped Simon believe that he had a future in tennis.
“It helps a lot when you can see a player like him on the court doing so well, playing smartly, being crafty... trying to use his weapons at the maximum level,” Simon told ATPWorldTour.com. “You realise he can do very good things... and it helped me to believe that I could make it also.”
Twenty years later, Simon has more than proved the naysayers wrong. At 6'0”, 154 pounds, he's hardly the tallest or the biggest ATP World Tour player. Yet few have been as consistent as Simon during the past 15 years.
The right-hander has won 12 ATP World Tour titles and nearly $11 million in prize money. By the end of the season, he could secure his 400th tour-level match win.
“In tennis, you can play with every type of physique,” he said.
The Frenchman also has won at least one title in eight of the past nine years. He hopes to add another year to that streak this week at the Winston-Salem Open.
Read More: On Seventh Attempt, Fritz Beats Tiafoe In Winston-Salem
Last year as the No. 1 seed, Simon had match point in the third set but lost to Brit Aljaz Bedene 6-7(5), 7-6(5), 7-6(6) in the second round.
This year, Simon came to Winston-Salem early to try to get more acclimated to the fast and hot conditions. He arrived here last Thursday and has spent more than three hours on court every day sweating and trying to adapt his flat, baseline game to the quick hard courts.
“For me, I hate to miss, and here you are missing. It's really hard. The balls are flying,” he said. “I realise I'm struggling a bit here, so that's why I took the chance to come early and to practise hard and I see already a lot improvement.”
At 31, Simon is firmly in the second half of his career. But his workmanlike style won't end when he decides to retire. He enjoys watching Belgian David Goffin, 5'11”, 150 pounds; and Japanese Kei Nishikori, 5'10”, 165 pounds. They, like Simon, have had to find success differently than most.
“Nishikori, Goffin they are not mountains,” Simon said, “but they are quite good.”
You could say the same for Simon.
“I thought I played a really great match from start to finish,” he said. “I didn’t let it get too nervy, which I might have been afraid of closing the match out against him because I never beat him before and I really wanted to so badly. I’m glad with how everything went.”
Fritz had lost to Tiafoe in the six previous meetings of their rivalry – five at the junior level from 2011-14 (two of which came in doubles), followed by their first tour-level clash at the BNP Paribas Open earlier this year. On Monday, he capitalised on three of his five break point chances en route to a 63-minute win.
“When I played him in Indian Wells I was thinking about it too much,” he said. “I wanted it way too bad and that just caused me to play a really tight and nervy match. This time I came out with no expectations, not feeling like I should win, not feeling entitled at all to winning the match, and I think that’s what allowed me to play loose and play free and play a good match.”
Fritz, currently a career-high World No. 54, has climbed more than 600 places in the Emirates ATP Rankings in a year and is a lead candidate to be named the 2016 ATP Star Of Tomorrow presented by Emirates. Tiafoe, who claimed his first tour-level win last year as a qualifier in Winston-Salem, has risen 150 spots to No. 124.
“Frances and I were actually talking about that before the match, that it’s crazy where we are right now,” said Fritz. “Neither of us thought we’d be where we are right now, a year later.
“I think this whole group has transitioned really well on the pro tour,” he added, referring to the American NextGen stars. “I think there’s a really long way to go for all of us, but all of us know that, we’re ready put in the work, and we’re all going to push each other. I think soon we’ll all be in these big tournaments playing each other. I think it’ll be a pretty regular thing.”[ALSO LIKE]
Fritz next meets Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, the No. 15 seed.
Czech Jiri Vesely, the 2013 ATP Star Of Tomorrow presented by Emirates, will face defending champion and fifth seed Kevin Anderson in the second round. Vesely opened his campaign with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 win over lucky loser Tim Van Rijthoven.
Novak Djokovic be warned: Andy Murray wants your place atop the Emirates ATP Race To London. After a mid-season surge that has seen him reach seven consecutive finals, including his second Wimbledon title run in July, Murray has the chance at the US Open to do what just three months ago seemed unthinkable: dethrone Novak Djokovic from first place in the Race.
When Djokovic defeated Murray in the Roland Garros final on June 5, the Serb held a 3,225-point lead in the Race. Murray has now cut that to 1,215 points after reaching the final of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati this past Sunday.
At the US Open, Murray is vying to become just the fourth player in the Open Era – Laver (’69), Federer (’06-‘07, '09) and Djokovic (’15) – to reach all four major finals in the same year. Should Murray win the title he will go to first place in the Race unless Djokovic is the man he beats in the final. If Murray and Djokovic meet for the third time (Australian Open, Roland Garros) in a Grand Slam final this year, Djokovic will still lead the Race by 415 points even if Murray wins the final.
With a US Open title, Murray would also put the ultimate goal in play: the year-end World No. 1 Emirates ATP Ranking, which Djokovic is attempting to clinch for the third consecutive year and fifth time overall. Just 16 players have ever finished the year No. 1.
A total of 25 players have held No. 1 during their careers. Interestingly, 24 players have won 600 tour-level matches, a mark Murray passed last week in Cincinnati. Murray is only one of eight players to top 600 match wins without ever ranking No. 1. The others are Guillermo Vilas (929 wins), David Ferrer (683), Arthur Ashe (681), Brian Gottfried (680), Michael Chang (662), Stan Smith (657) and Manuel Orantes (641).
Returning focus to London, Murray and Djokovic are the only two players to have secured their berths at this year’s Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, to be held November 13-20 at The O2 arena. The battle for the remaining six spots – which are determined by the Race - took some twists and turns in Cincinnati and will only intensify at Flushing Meadows.
Milos Raonic (4,375 points), third in the Race, and Kei Nishikori (fourth with 3,595 points) have reason to be confident that they will qualify for London. Austrian 22-year-old Dominic Thiem (3,025), who is looking to make his London debut, moved past Rafael Nadal (3,020) in fifth place after a quarter-final showing (l. Raonic) in Cincinnati.
Both players are less than 500 points clear of ninth-placed Tomas Berdych, although the Czech will miss the US Open due to appendicitis, giving both Thiem and Nadal a chance to add a handy buffer inside the Top 8 if they reach the second week.
Sixth-placed Stan Wawrinka (2,820) is 290 points clear of Berdych. French showman Gael Monfils (2,635), who like Thiem is seeking his first berth in London, holds the coveted eighth spot, just 105 points clear of Berdych.
Thrusting himself into London contention last week by claiming his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati, Marin Cilic (2,310) this week surges nine places to 10th in the Race, just 325 points behind eighth-placed Monfils. The US Open champion in 2014 and semi-finalist last year, Cilic has reason to expect that he can leverage his hot form and recent US Open performances to make a deep run at Flushing Meadows and perhaps break into the Top 8 in the Race.
David Goffin (2,130) is tied for 11th with Roger Federer (who will miss the rest of the season through injury) and is 505 points behind Monfils. The Belgian missed an opportunity last week to press his London claim, as did 13th placed Nick Kyrgios (1,825), with both players suffering early exits in Cincinnati.
Editor's Note: Updated 11.50 p.m. to correct years Djokovic and Federer respectively reached all four major finals in the same season.
“It was a tough match for me,” said the Frenchman, who had been sidelined for five weeks with a back injury and made his return last week in Cincinnati. “I think physically I'm not in my best shape. But I know I'm still tough to beat.
“It's important for me to do this kind of match,” he added. “Everything is possible in this draw.”
After dropping serve late in the second set, World No. 15 Gasquet saved two break points in the third and went ahead a decisive break at 4-2.
“Tough one; I had chances in the third set,” said Evans. “Obviously he's a class player and class showed through in the end... I was happy with how I played, just a few too many mistakes at the wrong time.”
Donald Young topped another Frenchman, last year’s runner-up Pierre-Hugues Herbert, to advance to the second round. The American, No. 57 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, did not face a break point in the 57-minute match as he won 6-4, 6-1.
“I was fortunate enough to break early in both sets, so it let me relax,” said Young. “It definitely wasn’t easy and I’m definitely pleased with the win and looking forward to the next round.” The American will next face No. 14 seed Marcos Baghdatis for the third time. Their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry is tied at 1-1.
Fourth seed Steve Johnson will face Lukas Rosol in the second round after the Czech beat Victor Estrella Burgos 6-4, 1-6, 6-1, while sixth seed Sam Querrey will open against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez after the Spaniard defeated Damir Dzumhur 7-6(0), 6-1.
Russian Andrey Kuznetsov, the No. 12 seed, made his way through to the third round after countryman Mikhail Youzhny withdrew with a leg injury following his first-round match. Youzhny had defeated Australian qualifier James Duckworth 7-6(8), 1-6, 6-3.
Top seeds Lukasz Kubot and Nenad Zimonjic rallied from a set down to reach the quarter-finals, edging Nicholas Monroe and Donald Young 2-6, 7-6(5), 10-7 in one hour and 41 minutes. Second seeds Mate Pavic and Michael Venus also advanced, beating Guillermo Duran and David Marrero 6-0, 7-5.
In his penultimate tournament before retiring, Eric Butorac was beaten in the first round alongside Scott Lipsky. The fourth seeds fell 6-7(5), 6-4, 10-3 to Jonathan Erlich and Santiago Gonzalez.
During his first visit to Winston-Salem, Frenchman Richard Gasquet will try to achieve what his fellow countrymen have been unable to do during their debut years at the tournament. Gasquet, the top seed, will try to win the title and gain his second ATP World Tour title of the season.
In 2011, the first year of the tournament, Julien Benneteau started the tradition of French players coming to Winston-Salem. Benneteau qualified and reached the final before falling to American John Isner. In 2012, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga reached the semi-finals before also losing to eventual champion Isner.
“They all told me it's a very nice tournament to play,” Gasquet said of his French buddies.
Tournament director Bill Oakes said having Benneteau and Tsonga play at the tournament in its early years was key to bringing more French players to the tournament.
"The rest of the French players saw that I think that really made it easier for them to understand how we take care of the guys here," Oakes said. "I think our fans have really appreciated all of them and really enjoyed watching them play."
Gasquet isn't quite thinking about one-upping his countrymen, though; the 30 year old is simply craving more matches. He retired after six games because of a back injury during his fourth-round match at Wimbledon and had to miss the next five weeks trying to recover.
Gasquet returned to the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati last week and prevailed past countryman Adrian Mannarino 7-6(2), 3-6, 6-1. But he fell in the second round to South African Kevin Anderson 6-2, 6-4.
“That's why it's important for me to be here. I didn't play so much – just two matches in Cincinnati, so I need to play,” Gasquet told ATPWorldTour.com.
Before his injury, the 15-year ATP World Tour veteran had been enjoying another consistent season.
In February, Gasquet won his 13th career title and his third consecutive at the Open Sud de France in Montpellier. In May, during his 13th time playing Roland Garros, the Frenchman reached the quarter-finals for the first time. He succumbed to eventual finalist Andy Murray in four sets.
Gasquet is hoping to regain that form in North Carolina. He faces Brit Daniel Evans for the first time on Monday evening. The 26-year-old Evans won his first-round match in Winston-Salem and reached a career high of No. 60 in the Emirates ATP Rankings last week.
“It's always difficult to stop for such a long time [and] come back,” Gasquet said. “I'm feeling better. I have no more injuries... Now I need to practise and play more matches.”
American tennis fans should be “optimistic” about the group of young Americans rising through the Emirates ATP Rankings and winning ATP World Tour matches as teenagers, former American champions Jim Courier, Andy Roddick and James Blake said on Sunday at the Winston-Salem Open.
But fans should resist setting any lofty expectations for the group just yet. Instead, they'd be wise to enjoy the group's attempted climb to the top.
“I think they should be optimistic,” Roddick said of fans. “I prefer that term over expecting anything.”
But it's been six years since an American won an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title (Roddick, Miami 2010). He and James Blake also were the last Americans to claim spots in the Top 5 – Roddick, August 2009; Blake, January 2007.
The former champions are hopeful for a turnaround, though. They see a hungry group of young Americans eager to bring their country back to the top of the ATP World Tour.
Leading the way is #NextGen star Taylor Fritz, who will make his Winston-Salem singles debut on Monday. In the past 12 months, Fritz, a strong candidate for this year's ATP Star Of Tomorrow presented by Emirates, has climbed 624 spots in the Emirates ATP Rankings to No. 54.
In Winston-Salem, he'll look for revenge against another up-and-coming American: 18 year old Frances Tiafoe, who has hiked 151 spots in the past 12 months to No. 124. The two have played four times, including three times in juniors and at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells earlier this season. Tiafoe has won every time.
“I've never won so I'm really looking forward to tomorrow,” Fritz said.
The list of young Americans continues: 18-year-old Reilly Opelka reached the semi-finals of the BB&T Atlanta Open earlier this month; 19-year-old Tommy Paul won his first tour-level match earlier this season in Houston; 18-year-old Stefan Kozlov knocked off Johnson in 's-Hertogenbosch in June; 20-year-old Noah Rubin is ranked No. 193; and 18-year-old Michael Mmoh won the USTA Boys' 18s National Championships a week ago.
“We've had some very good players pop through [but] this is the first time we've had this amount of depth at that level. I'm very hopeful, very optimistic,” said Courier, who was in Winston-Salem with Roddick and Blake for an exhibition on Sunday evening. “I think they can play off of each other, share some of the pressure, share some of the expectations and also push each other.”
The American tennis generation Courier grew up in included himself, former World No. 1, former World No. 2 Michael Chang and former World No. 1's Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. They all benefited from developing as a group, Courier said.
“We were able to push each other and really propel each other to greater heights,” he said.
Roddick, Blake and Mardy Fish also pushed each other and shared a “healthy jealousy”, Roddick said. He's talked with most of the up-and-comers and is optimistic because he hasn't noticed a sense of entitlement that has accompanied past American tennis prospects.
“They know that they have to earn their place and I think that's a great thing,” he said.
It's far too early, though, to set specific expectations for them, Blake said. Their bodies have yet to go through a full season on the ATP World Tour. They also lack significant match experience against some of the game's best players.
“I want to see who's going to progress because right now they're all still pretty raw,” Blake said.
Fritz said he believes he and others will produce results that all American tennis fans will enjoy. It just might take a little bit.
“The one thing to say to the fans is it's probably going to take time. And just let it happen. Just let it happen,” Fritz said. “This group is going to be really good. As long as not too many expectations and not too much pressure is put on this whole group, I think we're going to have a lot of Top 50 players and a lot of Top 20 players.”
Eric Butorac has been playing tennis for the past 30 years. He's played more than 500 doubles matches during his 14-year ATP World Tour career. He's also won 18 ATP World Tour doubles titles.
But on Sunday at the Winston-Salem Open, the 35 year old experienced a first for his tennis career: Butorac plopped himself in a wheelchair and tried to play wheelchair tennis.
“Challenging” was how Butorac, No. 45 in the Emirates ATP Doubles Rankings, described playing the sport. Hitting the ball was no problem, he said. But he often forgot he was in a wheelchair and that he first had to move to the ball, and then hit it.
“We don't ever have to think about moving towards the ball, so that was another step,” he said.
The doubles champion also learned that his usual tactics don't work as well in wheelchair tennis.
“I tried to approach the net one time and that's completely the wrong strategy,” he said. “But it was fun to try and have a new respect for the game.”
Butorac and his Winston-Salem doubles partner, fellow American Scott Lipsky, participated in the Orthotic and Prosthetic Activities Foundation (OPAF) wheelchair tennis clinic, which was made possible with grant funding from USTA Wheelchair Tennis. The clinic was held at the Wake Forest Indoor Tennis Center, next door to the outdoor courts of the Winston-Salem Open.
“[I] definitely respect these guys for doing what they do,” said Lipsky, who helped shag balls while Butorac played. “It's amazing to see how good they actually are.”
Chris Gallal, a 17 year old from Charlotte, North Carolina, has been playing wheelchair tennis for the past three months and participated in the clinic. He was impressed that Butorac hopped in the wheelchair. “It was a very nice experience and I really enjoyed it,” he said.
Robin Burton, executive director of OPAF, said the participation from the ATP World Tour players helped bridge the gap between able-bodied tennis and wheelchair tennis, which are usually two entirely separate sports, she said.
The longtime coach who helped run the clinic also appreciated the support from the ATP World Tour veterans. Frank Adams, who's been coaching wheelchair tennis for the past 20 years, said Butorac and Lipsky's participation will inspire wheelchair athletes for months to come.
“I think it's outstanding to have [ATP World Tour] players participate in something so significant... Being willing to go out there and play wheelchair tennis before they start their tournament, not a lot of players would do that,” Adams said. “I think it inspires everyone who got a chance to see them to take that risk.”
A top seed at an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event for the first time, Andy Murray did well to reach the final of the Western & Southern Open before falling to Marin Cilic. The Brit saw his career-best 22-match win streak snapped by the inspired Croatian, but took positives from his deep run in Cincinnati.
“I'm very proud of this week. Obviously today didn't go the way I would've wanted, but I certainly didn't expect to get to the final,” said Murray, who arrived in Cincinnati after winning his second consecutive Olympic gold medal. “It was a very positive week. Now I’m looking forward to a few days' rest.”
The short turnaround after Rio caused Murray some physical discomfort and nearly derailed his Cincinnati run.
“After the first match I played, I was having problems with my shoulder,” Murray said. “I did speak about it with my team, but my physio was pretty confident that it was just fatigue, and that I didn't have any sort of structural damage in my shoulder.
“When it was said that I wasn't going to make it worse by playing, I thought: ‘Let's go for it this week. Let's try and get through as many matches as we can.’”
Murray’s superior form carried him to a seventh consecutive final and nearly allowed him to win his fifth title of the year. In 2016, Murray won the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Rome and the Aegon Championships before securing his second Wimbledon title. Against Cilic, he was aiming for his 40th tour-level crown.
“I think I’m playing my best tennis just now. It's not even close to anything else I had done before. Seven finals in a row, winning Wimbledon again, and the Olympics. It's been really good,” said Murray, whose next event will be the US Open, a tournament he won in 2012. “I really didn't expect to be here. It’s obviously disappointing when you get to the final and don't win, but it was a very, very positive week considering everything. Mentally I'm in a good place just now. So I'm looking forward to New York for sure.”
Marin knew. Andy knew. The crowd even knew, but there was nothing anybody could do to stop Marin Cilic’s wide sliding serve in the deuce court from carving up Andy Murray in the final of the Western and Southern Open on Sunday.
Cilic won 6-4, 7-5, overwhelming Murray with precision serves, power forehands, and a tenacity to keep points short and sweet against the most in-form player on the planet.
Tennis is a game of primary and secondary patterns that are mixed based on the scoreboard and the guessing game of shot location constantly going on inside players’ minds. Primary patterns are the prime movers, run seven or eight times out of ten, while secondary patterns are surprise guerrilla tactics used to confuse the opponent when they get a scent of what’s really happening to them.
Cilic Deuce Court Wide Slider
There was no pattern of play more important for Cilic against Murray than his wide sliding serve in the deuce court. It stretched Murray way off the court to begin the point, creating a huge positioning hole for Cilic to immediately exploit with his forehand.
Murray regularly made contact with his forehand return 6.6 metres (22 feet) from the center of the court, creating an instant hole for Cilic to attack Murray in the vacant ad court, and also behind Murray in the deuce court as the Brit sprinted back hard after the defensive return to stay alive in the point.
Overall, Cilic directed 80 per cent (24/30) of first serves in the deuce court out wide, dining there again and again whenever he needed a point. Of the 24 first serves he hit out wide, he made 15 and won 12.
Of the 12 he won, he served and volleyed four times, highlighting the confidence he had in this specific serve to immediately follow it to the net. Of the other eight points, Murray committed three return errors and Cilic was 5/5 in hitting a forehand as the all-important “Serve +1” groundstroke immediately following the serve. Of those 12, Cilic only played one rally that lasted more than seven shots, showing how much he was able to immediately dictate behind the fearsome delivery. Of the three points Cilic lost behind his wide deuce slider, Murray was on full defence, slicing six of eight shots to barely stay afloat in the point.
At 6-4, 3-3, Murray’s average return speed against Cilic’s first serve was a lowly 48mph. The wide slider in the deuce court had a lot to do with that. Cilic, by comparison, was averaging 64mph with his first serve returns.
Cilic Serve +1 Forehands
Hitting a forehand as the first shot after the serve was also a key tactic for Cilic, completing it 61 per cent (22/36) of the time to stay on top of Murray as the point unfolded. Cilic won 73 per cent (16/22) of his points beginning with a Serve +1 forehand and only 43 per cent (6/14) beginning with a Serve +1 backhand strategy.
With Cilic leading 6-4, 3-4 on serve, his forehand had done a masterful job of pushing Murray further back behind the baseline than the Brit was comfortable with. When Murray defeated Milos Raonic in the semi-finals, Murray made contact with only 16 per cent of his groundstrokes more than two metres behind the baseline, but that more than doubled that to 35 per cent against Cilic after a set and a half of play.
First Four Shots
Cilic imposed his will all over the court, especially when it came to the key metric of rally length. Sixty percent of points in the match were a maximum of four shots. Cilic won this vital battleground 39-34, won the 5-8 shot rallies 22-19 and lost the long rallies of 10 shots or more 5-4.
Dominating the shorter rallies is proven to be a much better indicator of who will win the match than winning the longer rallies. At the 2015 US Open, the match winner won 90 per cent of the 0-4 shot rallies, 66 per cent of the 5-8 shot rallies, and just 56 per cent of the longer rallies that reached double digits.
Cilic looks in ominous form heading into this year’s US Open - a title he won in 2014. When the 6’6” Croatian is in this vein of form, his game is so big and so powerful that he can blow right through opponents with his massive serve and forehand combination.